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The life of faith, or how to reach mafanikio

After my post about mafanikio, another missionary here in Tanzania wrote to me with some questions. In her experience, people who are on the road to becoming successful are torn down by others until they stop striving, so they never reach it. Mediocrity and inertia are what Tanzanian culture produces. She asked me about corruption as well — those people don’t share with others, but keep their wealth for themselves! The things she said have truth, as a broad description of Tanzania. It challenged me to think about whether what I have been exploring is accurate.

There’s often a big difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. For example, it’s not uncommon for westerners to think of corruption as endemic in Africa, but if you ask Tanzanians about corruption, they’ll acknowledge its existence while making sure you know that people who do that are ‘bad Tanzanians.’ That’s why you can hold community-minded ideas about success even if it doesn’t seem that way from the outside.

This is not to say that Tanzanians are in denial about the reality of their society, but to refuse to essentialise Tanzanian society. Tanzanians might describe their economy or even their situation as poor, but this doesn’t mean they see themselves inherently as people of poverty. They absolutely recognise corruption in their society, but they consistently argue that corrupt Tanzanians are neither moral people not good Tanzanians.

As I was sitting in church on Sunday, I realised that the sermon addressed the concerns that my missionary friend expressed. The topic was The Life of Faith, based on the life of Abraham in Hebrews 11. Here’s a broad brushstroke of the sermon:

The life of faith is a willingness to (1) be obedient, (2) be patient, and (3) sacrifice everything.

If you want to become a successful businessman, you can make it by having an influential father, using money to advance yourself, or getting an education. Then there is the way of God.

Learn to hear his voice and then act on it. Even if you can’t see where it is leading to. Like Abraham leaving his home to go somewhere he didn’t know.

But be patient — even after Abraham had moved there, it was 25 years before anything happened. Don’t lost heart and choose a different path which leads to destruction.

Ask yourself who is first in your heart — are you seeking your own glory and stardom, or are you willing to take the risk, lose friends, even live a more humble life, in order to follow God?

Here is the reason to continue in integrity and seeking excellence even when people try to tear you down: you are following God’s voice. Here is the reason to continue in a moral path even when a corrupt one seems more profitable. Here is the expectation that life is not about me and my glory but about serving God and others.

This kind of sermon might not be the norm in Tanzania. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s radical! But it is authentically Tanzanian. Here is a Tanzanian preaching the Bible to Tanzanians about the issues in Tanzanian society. Those issues are the same ones we westerners are used to hearing about (poverty, corruption, inertia, etc.) but they’re also mafanikio and how to reach it. And the solution comes not from outside Tanzania but from within. This is Tanzanian Christianity bringing life to Tanzania, teaching what Tanzanian life to the full is, how you can be a faithful disciple to Jesus in Tanzanian terms.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

4 replies

  1. I have found that Peter Ekeh’s thinking around corruption, while dated, is still very useful. Kenyan economist David Ndili recently made much of his analysis. “Colonialism and the Two Publics” is the place to start. It would explain the apparent discrepancy your missionary colleague is noting.

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